As a manager, it's tough when one of your employees struggles. Whether it's due to a decrease in their work quality, missed deadlines or a poor attitude, there comes the point when something has to be done because they're negatively affecting the team. 

In these situations, the knee jerk reaction is usually one of two things: send them to training or terminate. This polarizing viewpoint is often created because managers passively deal with performance issues for months (maybe years) until they boil over. Then, something drastic has to change, or they're ready to throw in the towel. 

The goal is to never get to this point.

Performance isn't a fixed concept--it's dynamic. Jobs and employees are multifaceted, and taking time to understand the moving parts will help you narrow in on the root cause of any employee performance issue and address it adequately. 

An employee's performance can be broken down into these four areas: 

1. The knowledge it takes to do the job.  

They know what to do. 

The knowledge component speaks to an understanding of the job's scope, principles, processes, function, and responsibilities. For example, if someone is a Financial Analyst, they should probably have a fundamental understanding of finance, and know the significance of the financial metrics they are analyzing. 

Without the knowledge to do the job, employees will lack the behaviors and habits necessary to perform. 

If it is determined that an employee lacks the knowledge to do a job, then the appropriate response is education and training. 

2. The skills needed to execute. 

They know how to do it. 

Skills are the physical actions one needs to take to do their job. Using the example from above, a Financial Analyst should know how to analyze financial statements and review material differences between actual verse forecasted results using excel. 

Without the skill, employees will lack the ability to perform essential job tasks. 

If the performance gap is due to a lack of skill, then the appropriate response is training or job aids. 

3. The motivation to succeed.

They know why they are doing it. 

It's difficult to succeed at something that you're not fully engaged in. To continually stay on top of tasks, meet deadlines, and take initiative, it takes a desire to do so.

A lack of motivation can come from a myriad of different things: relationship conflicts, unfair compensation, lack of work/life balance, don't feel appreciated, and moral issues are all examples. 

I once worked in a retail environment where part of my performance was based on opening new credit cards. However, there we times when I knew the customer didn't need one. 

If it is determined that an employee has a motivational issue, then the appropriate response is coaching. Have a conversation to uncover where the disconnect is, and then address it through mutually agreed upon solutions and advice. 

4. The right conditions.

They have the necessary tools to do their job and your support. 

As managers, there are times when we set expectations before ensuring our employees have what they need to be successful. Rather than a skill or a knowledge gap, the performance issue could be a result of a lack of resources, an unsupportive culture, or technology. 

If you put an employee in charge of customer satisfaction for example, then you better give them the budget to invest in a surveying tool. And, if you want them to address customer issues, then you better have executive support to make necessary process changes. 

Unfortunately, many managers assign employees accountability without giving them the authority or ability to make things happen. It's really frustrating to go through the design process to only have a project held up because the manager can't or won't make a decision.

The authority component really comes into play when prioritizing goals. It will be impossible for an employee to execute if they don't have the ability to shift tasks around or the time to focus on meeting expectations.

Determining that the performance gap is due to extenuating circumstances or support issues allows you to make the necessary changes to address resourcing problems and provide opportunities to ensure employees can do what's expected. 

Before you make a snap decision, use these four areas to find the source of your employee's performance issue. Doing so will ensure that you address the root cause and act appropriately before reaching a point of no return.